Rajasthan top order frustrates Baroda
Rajasthan 155 for 1 (Suwalka 70*, Saxena 54*) trail Baroda 236 (Waghmode 114, Chahar 5-58) by 81 runs
The ball had pitched on off stump. Back of a length. It moved in a little after pitching before hitting the front pad of Vineet Saxena. The Rajasthan opener had decided to leave the ball. Munaf Patel appealed hard for an lbw. His team-mates joined Munaf, who continued to appeal even as the umpire Subrat Das shook his head in disagreement. Munaf was incredulous. Angry, he argued loudly with Das from the spot where he had finished his followthrough. Das called Bardoa stand-in captain Aditya Waghmode from the slips to caution his player, even as Irfan Pathan tried to calm Munaf's raging temper.
Two balls later, Saxena moved on to the back foot to lash a square cut for four. At the end of the over, Munaf, still livid, continued to deliberate with the umpire. An equally annoyed Das was seen moving towards Munaf, till Irfan once again steered Munaf away.
It was a moment the revealed Baroda's frustration. Baroda had walked on to the field without their captain Yusuf Pathan, who the team manager said was down with viral fever. With Irfan deciding not to bowl in the Ranji Trophy as he works his way back to full fitness, much responsibility fell on Munaf.
Needing an outright victory to qualify for the knockouts Baroda needed an early breakthrough. However the Rajasthan opening pair of Siddharth Saraf and Saxena had started confidently. They had negotiated the eight overs before lunch cautiously, but on resumption Saraf started to play his drives freely till he failed to read the line of a Munaf delivery that clipped the bails as he attempted to push the ball down leg side. Munaf was muted in his celebrations.
Unfortunately for Baroda there would be no further wickets as Saxena and debutant Suryaprakash Suwalka finished the day with an undefeated 108-run partnership. Suwalka, who turned 21 less than a month ago, is a wicketkeeper and had raised eyebrows with his selection. But Suwalka remained aggressive throughout his unbeaten 70, attracting good applause from the frugal crowd. Most of his strokes came on the front foot as he took advantage of the half volleys or short deliveries from Murtuja Vahora and Gagandeep Singh.
At the other end, Saxena, Rajasthan's most experienced player, continued to play to his strengths. In contrast to the first day, Tuesday was much sunnier and the pitched had lost a bit its bite. Saxena made used of the medium pace of Vahora by pulling, pushing cover drives and punching a straight drive for fours. He reached his 32nd fifty and would fancy his chances of notching a ton in his hundredth first-class match.
Although Munaf toiled hard, including bowling a first spell of 15 overs, he failed to find able support.
If Munaf enlivened the afternoon, the morning was lit up by the contest between Pankaj Singh and Aditya Waghmode. Pankaj had taken four wickets on curtailed first day when, due to bad light, 123 minutes of play had been lost. Waghmode had withstood Pankaj on the first day after Baroda had been reduced to 50 for 5 and repaired the early damages with a 74-run sixth-wicket partnership with Pinal Shah.
But on 70, Waghmode had been dropped by Rajesh Bishnoi at second slip off Deepak Chahhar. It was a straightforward catch that Bishnoi would curse himself for spilling. Waghmode combined with Abhijit Karambelkar to stitch a vital 65-run partnership which frustrated the hosts.
Although Bishnoi made amends this morning by diving to his right to take a low catch that got rid of Karambelkar, Rajasthan still had to deal with Waghmode.
In the next over Chahar almost wrapped up the Baroda innings by taking three wickets in the space of four deliveries. He first hit the stumps of Gagandeep and then had Vahora edge to the wicketkeeper. Next delivery he bowled a fuller ball on Munaf's legs as the batsman tried to play a one-handed shot. The leading edge went straight into the hands of point. Munaf started to walk and nearly crossed the ropes before he was stopped as the umpires confirmed Chahar had bowled a no-ball. At that point Baroda were 201.
Waghmode then quickly took charge even as he faced an aggressive spell from Pankaj. Bowling short and fast and into his ribs, Pankaj tried to make sure Waghmode would not get any space to play his strokes. Waghmode even was forced to replace his helmet after being hit in the back of his head as his attempt to hook failed. But as soon as Pankaj overcompensated with length, the Baroda vice-captain lunged forward to push a cover drive for four, forcing Pankaj to send the fielder into the deep.
In Pankaj's next over Waghmode clipped an on drive which beat Ashok Menaria at short midwicket. The return throw flew wide and over Pankaj's head with no-one to back-up. Pankaj gave an earful to Robin Bist who was at deep point.
Waghmode finished his century with a tight single as Aniket Choudhary, positioned at short point, failed to pick the ball neatly and missed out on a possible run-out opportunity. Waghmode let out a huge sigh as he raised both his hands in delight, even as Pankaj and Chahar applauded their opponent.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo